The Making of a Boro-inspired Jacket

My boro-inspired top was my first-ever attempt at making a jacket. It was both easier and harder than I expected.

I already wrote about why I wanted to make this jacket, and what it means to me. Many people asked me about the making process, however, so today I want to share the technical details: the steps I followed, the many mistakes I made along the way, and what I learned from them. I hope this post will inspire you to make your own jacket!

The Pattern

I knew I wanted to make a kimono-style jacket, so I started by combing Pinterest for inspiration and patterns.

I quickly realized that classic kimonos are made out of simple rectangles sewn together. Some have narrowing sleeves, and that’s what I decided to go for. For the body, instead of the regular, straight rectangle cut, I chose an A-shaped one (also typical to classic kimonos), hoping it would be slightly less boxy.

The Measurements

For measurements, I took a few of my store-bought jackets out of my closet and measured them with a measuring tape. I was surprised to discover that although they were all the same stated size, their actual measurements varied greatly. Yet, they all fit, somehow. So I settled on a specific width somewhere in the middle (measured from underarm to underarm), and spent some time calculating the rest. My daughter suggested making the sleeves extra long, so they could be folded. I therefore added a few inches to the sleeve length.

The Foundation

I cut and sewed the entire piece out of a pretty flannel-like fabric I had in my stash, to create a foundation layer. That was my canvas.

The Patching

My sewing room wasn’t big enough for this project, and therefore for the next several days I took over our living room floor. I lay the foundation piece down, and started arranging patches over it, much like I did with my artsy pouches. I used mostly pieces from tattered pants belonging to family members, but also added a few vintage Japanese fabrics I bought in Nara, as well as matching bits from my stash. For the back, I chose a central panel I found at FabMo a while back.

When organizing the patches, I tried to balance the colors, tones and patterns as I do with a quilt or bag. Once I was happy with an arrangement, I pinned the pieces down.

I went on doing this for several days, arranging, moving, rearranging. Finally, I finished covering the entire foundation, and was satisfied with how it looked.

I moved the entire mess out from the living room and back into my sewing corner, to my family’s great relief!

The Sewing

The next stage was machine sewing the patches down onto the foundation fabric. That was when I realized my first mistake. I secured most patches on with one or two pins. When I tried to put the large mass of fabric on my sewing table, I had to fold it into a bundle so it would fit. The patches folded and moved, and the pins caught other pieces/layers creating a huge, uncontrollable blob of very heavy fabric…

Untangling the whole thing took quite some time, and was accompanied by words unfit for print…

If I were to ever do this again, I wouldn’t sew a foundation for the entire garment. Rather, I would cut and patch each individual piece separately, before putting them together in the end. Also, I would probably use safety pins, and more than one or two per patch…

I sewed and zigzagged around every single patch, much as I did with the artsy pouches. When all the patches were securely fastened onto the foundation, I embarked on the fun part of the project: hand stitching.

Hand Stitching

I used both pearl cotton thread and embroidery floss, and covered the patches with a web of Sashiko-style stitches. I took my time with this, doing a bit each day. My hands still hurt from stitching through the thick fabrics of my latest art quilt (and from lots of spring pruning), so I didn’t want to over-do it. I stitched for about a week and a half, enjoying the quiet moments, the meditative nature of the slow work…

The hard part was deciding when to stop. Which patches needed more stitching? When is enough enough? Can there be too many stitches?

The Lining

When I started this project, I wasn’t planning to make a lining. I thought that the foundation layer would function as the inside of the garment. That’s why I chose a nice fabric for that. But as I was working, I realized that the inner fabric doesn’t go too well with the outer layer. Also, it didn’t look great with all the stitches visible. So I decided to add a separate lining, and happened to have the perfect fabric for that: a beautiful red cotton with an Indian-like pattern.

Taking a break from stitching, I cut and sewed the lining. I tried it on, and … nearly had a heart attack! When my arms were up, you see, it was absolutely perfect. But when I put my hands down, the sleeves under the armpits scrunched terribly!

I calmed down only after consulting with fellow-sewists in some of my Facebook groups, when I realized that that’s just the way it is with kimonos…

Were I to do this again, I would consider a more fitted, Western-style sleeve, to eliminate some of that bulk. This is less noticeable with thin fabrics such as silk, and more so with thicker fabrics.

Putting It All Together

I could hardly sleep the night before I sewed it together. I was excited and anxious all at once. In the morning, I drank enough coffee to make sure I’m fully awake, then pinned everything together with shaking hands. I didn’t stop to take pictures. Putting the outer layer and lining right sides together, I sewed as if this were a bag. With lots of experience attaching bags to linings, I thought I knew what I was doing… I left a “birthing” space as I would in a bag, and turned the entire thing right side out.

That was when I discovered that jackets can’t be sewn like bags, and that I made a big mess out of it… I almost laughed, it was really quite ridiculous! Except I was too upset and almost cried…

Were I to do this again, I wouldn’t assume a jacket can be sewn like a bag… I would do my homework first, and learn how to attach a lining to a jacket BEFORE actually trying it…

Seam Ripper to the rescue. He was my best buddy that morning. We spent a LONG time together, he and I.

I ended up sewing the sleeve ends together by hand. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it right on the machine, and it was quicker that way. It also felt like I had more control.

Were I to do this again, I would certainly make sure I know how to do this correctly BEFORE I actually start… Spending a little time on research would have saved me the LONG time I spent unpicking…

Still, I finished my new jacket! It feels solid and heavy. The lining feels great on the skin. It’s warm! And it has long sleeves I can fold, to give it the cute look my daughter wanted it to have.

Things I’d Improve

Were I to do it again, I would change the shape of the collar to a straight line or a “v.” The collar as is sits a bit strange. I would also add a pocket or two. I decided against pockets as I was designing it, mostly because I didn’t want to detract from the patches and the Sashiko stitching. However, I regretted that decision the very first time I wore it… Lastly, I would make the jacket a little bit wider (underart to underarm). It fits me perfectly, but is too small for my daughters, who are just slightly bigger than me, eliminating future hand-me-down options…

This jacket took almost two weeks to make, but I really enjoyed the process, not to mention the end result. I hope it inspires you to make one for yourself! If you do, make sure to show me a picture!

 

My Father’s Jeans: The Story Behind My Boro-inspired Jacket

The last time I visited my father, in January of last year, I noticed a pile of folded jeans in a corner.

It turned out that these were worn-out jeans that my dad kept around just in case. He loved upcycling, and always found good uses for torn jeans. He used them to patch other pieces of clothing, for example, or to bind books. These jeans were one of many types of raw materials he kept around, for as-need-arises future use.

I had some free time that visit, and my hands felt empty. So I asked if I could have a piece of one of those jeans. I wanted to have some fabric to stitch on, to keep my fingers busy. My father gave me the entire pile.

I started working on a boro project, and kept working on it after I returned home, too. I decided to make a boro-style tote bag, and got as far as this:

Then, in March, my father passed away without warning. Just like that, the tattered pants he gave me turned from useful raw materials into sacred relics.

The boro project I began working on while visiting him moved to my Unfinished Project Pile and stayed there. The yet-unused pile of my father’s jeans remained on my cutting table, untouched, for several months.

I couldn’t look at them. Definitely couldn’t touch them. I could barely do anything at all anyway. Eventually, I exiled them to a far corner of my sewing room.

Several months later, my mom asked me to make her a small essentials pouch. I was happy to oblige. Once I started, I decided to add a small piece of my father’s jeans, one I had already cut out for the boro-patch project. I thought my mom would like to carry something of my dad’s with her. Even though I knew perfectly well that he was always with her anyway, as he is with me.

My mom was happy with her bag, and let me borrow it a few times when I visited her. That got me thinking…

As the year anniversary of my father’s passing drew near, I embarked on the most ambitious boro project I have ever attempted.

I cut and took apart some of my father’s jeans.

For color variation, I added darker pieces from my husband’s and son’s torn pants, as well as pieces of vintage Japanese fabric I bought in Nara when I visited Japan a couple of years ago. I also threw in some fabric from my stash.

I started to think of it as a family-love project, and wanted to add pieces from my daughters’ jeans as well. As it turned out, however, all the worn-out girl pants I had contained stretch, and were therefore unsuitable for a jacket. So I stuck with fabric salvaged from clothing belonging to my three favorite boys (I would have added something from my brother, too, except I didn’t have any).

I sewed and stitched for days on end. Since my hands still hurt from stitching Lavender Morning (as well as from a lot of spring pruning I did at the same time), I made sure not to over do it. I stitched a bit each day, measuring my work not in minutes or hours, but rather in stitches and patches. Hand stitching is a quiet, meditative work. It is medicine for aching hearts. In the year that passed since my father passed away, it really helped me grieve and restrain the pain. I savored every moment of it.

The anniversary of my dad’s passing drew near, and with every passing day my boro jacket was a bit closer to completion. Then, just on time, it was finished.

I don’t need a jacket to remind me of my father. He is in my thoughts constantly, every single day. But it will be nice, on the anniversary of his death, a few short days from now, to have something physical to cuddle. To have something of his embrace me.

Heavy and warm, this jacket will wrap me in a big hug. A big hug from the three most important men in my life: my son, my husband and my father.

 

Interested in the Summer of Love but Can’t Visit SF? New York Has an Exhibition, Too!

A few weeks ago I wrote about my visit to the Summer of Love exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I was quite surprised to find a similar exhibition in New York City!

The Museum of Art and Design now shows a Counter Culture exhibit, which is a smaller version of the one in de Young. Spread over two floors, this show displays an array of hippie outfits. Some are even more outrageous than the ones I’ve seen in SF! Here you will find more multi-cultured outfits, combining textiles from several countries:

There are also elaborate examples of denim art:

As well as some imaginative jackets. This is a detail of an army coat embroidered and appliqued by Michael Fajans:

And this leather jacket is by Nina Huryn:

In this exhibition, too, I found some elaborately crocheted outfits:

As well as some mixed-technique ones:

And I saw more hand-made boots of the kind displayed at de Young, possibly by the same artist:

Except that this exhibit also has the tool kit with which these boots were made!

Watching the video of the Summer of Love in New York felt different than experiencing similar videos in Golden Gate Park, where the events actually took place. Things seemed more removed, somehow… Still, if you’re on the East Coast and cannot make it to the exhibition in de Young, this is an excellent next-best-thing! This exhibit, too, runs until August 20th.

And if you’re at the museum already, go down a floor to see the exhibition of Judith Lieber’s handbags. Here I learned something new about the history of handbag evolution:

Even though I related more to the aesthetics of the Counter Culture exhibit in the floors above, I still admired the outrageousness of Lieber’s designs:

A Tale of Jeans: Denim Art

When I was in high school I had a pair of jeans that I simple loved. I literally lived in them, wearing them day in and day out. It didn’t take long before they started to fringe.

Before I go on, I need to stop for a moment and tell you a couple of things. The first is that my grandmother taught me how to darn socks when I was very little. She must have learned doing it as a young girl herself, at a time when socks were expensive and possibly knitted by hand. By the time I was born, all socks were already store-bought and rather cheap. Very few people ever considered fixing them. Hence, for many years I wasn’t exactly sure why my grandma chose to pass on that specific piece of knowledge at a time when it was already passé. Recently I realized she might have done so since I was very crafty, and darning socks was pretty much the only crafty thing she knew how to teach me… No matter the reason, I fondly remember her showing me how to pull a torn sock over a cup, and how to weave over the hole ever so gently.

The second thing you need to know is that I went to a high school for the arts, where all of us students considered ourselves to be artists–and dressed to match…

Well, as I said, I had a pair of jeans I loved, and they didn’t last long. So I made use of the skill my grandmother taught me, and started darning them using colorful embroidery floss. I fixed the first tear (at the knee) and it looked great … for a while. A few weeks later the jeans tore above the fix. So I fixed that, too. And on and on it went. Soon they tore at the crotch, and from behind, and even at the bottom. And so, over the course of my four years in high school, my beloved pair of denim became a continuous, living work of denim art:

Some teenagers rebel by smoking or drinking. I tested boundaries by means of embroidery. To my mother’s great horror I insisted on wearing my jeans to our high school’s graduation ceremony! (She walked on the other side of the street all the way from the bus…).

Needless to say, I kept them. Although I never wore them again once high school was over, they are still folded nicely in a closet at my parents’ house.

As for darning, you might wonder if I ever found use for that skill again. Well, I will surprise you by telling you that I did!

When my girls were little, I loved dressing them in cute dresses and pretty tights. I went out of my way to search near and far for the most beautiful, colorful and elaborately-patterned tights I could get. The problem was that the tights didn’t last long. A mere day or two of energetic playing predictably resulted in punctured holes at the toes… The busy mom that I was, I just couldn’t stand the thought of perfectly new, beautiful tights with only a little hole being thrown away… So I spent hours darning tights that tore yet again after another day or two. It took a few years until I finally gave up.

But while I no longer darn socks (or tights, for that matter!), I recently started darning for art’s sake. Inspired by the memory of my high-school jeans, I began saving my kids’ torn pants (of which there are PLENTY!). I cut the ripped pieces out, stretch them over embroidery hoops and darn:

Now, I simply enjoy the process. Darning is relaxing and therapeutic, almost meditative. I also savor the memories it brings, memories of my high school days and of my grandmother, now long deceased. And I just love the aesthetic outcome!